If this was my top ten list for 2010, I could walk away a happy man.
Instead, these are the ten films that almost made my main list, and to me, this just shows what a good year 2010 was. I wouldn’t knock a single one of these films. I would happily watch any of them right now. I would recommend every one of them to film fans. It’s just that when you’re making lists, something gets left off, and I feel bad enough in the case of these eleven films (yes, I have a tie this year… sue me) that I wanted to make sure they got their own list, their own spotlight, their own special praise.
The crazy thing is I think I could do a runners-up runners-up list this year as well. There were a lot of films worth seeing if you went looking for them.
Let’s start with #20 on my overall list, and we’ll build to the movie that almost cracked the top ten. Remember, these are the films I saw that qualified for consideration for these lists this year, and these are the films I didn’t see. With that in mind, my runners-up, the next ten best:
It took adapting a novel by Wendelin Van Draanen for Rob Reiner to find his voice for the first time in 20 years, and the result is a sweet, unusually clear-eyed piece about the way we find our moral compass in life. The structure of the picture bounces between the perspectives of Juli Baker (Madeline Carroll) and Bryce Loski (Callan McAuliffe), kids who grow up across the street from each other. From the moment they meet, Juli is smitten, but Bryce resists her interest with everything he’s got. It’s only as they get older and they begin to come into focus as people that Bryce begins to notice what a genuinely interesting and special person Juli is, just as she’s starting to realize there may be nothing special about Bryce at all. Both Carroll and McAuliffe give mature and honest performances, and they are supported by a great adult cast including Rebecca De Mornay, Anthony Edwards, Penelope Anne Miller, Aidan Quinn, and the great John Mahoney as the one family member who sees through Bryce and who dares to challenge him on the man he could become.
Mark and Jay Duplass work on their own terms, in their own way, and the results so far seem to prove them right. What starts in familiar Hollywood romantic comedy territory when John (John C. Reilly) meets Molly (Marisa Tomei) at a party quickly devolves into something far stranger when John meets Cyrus (Jonah Hill), Molly’s adult son who still lives with her in a cocoon of total dependence. I’ve met a few Cyruses over the years, and the film does a tremendous job of painting a portrait of this very real, even understandable relationship between Molly and Cyrus and how hard it is for John to find his space in their world, no matter how much he and Molly want it to happen. Funny, sad, and occasionally terrifying, “Cyrus” is hard to shake.
8. “127 Hours”
Danny Boyle created one of the most visceral experiences of the year, film as endurance test, which is exactly the way you should tell the story of Aron Ralston. James Franco gives the performance that will define him from this point forward, charismatic and reckless and ridiculous and, ultimately, transcendent, and it’s a duet between him and Boyle. One-man movies like this depend on the performance, and they have to find a way to make the experience engrossing for the audience. This one pulls you in, punishes you, then washes you clean. It’s almost pure experience, and incredibly well-executed in every detail.
I love how angry some people get when they talk about “Kick-Ass.” There is genuine red-faced indignant fury that grips them as they talk about the amoral glee the film takes in placing its underage protagonists in harm’s way, and they’re right. The film doesn’t play fair. The film doesn’t do the things it’s supposed to do. It’s rougher, it’s nastier, and it’s darker, and that’s the charm of it. “Kick-Ass” is as scrappy as the characters that populate it, as low-fi as its hero, and as crazy as Big Daddy and Hit Girl. Those two characters alone would land this film on my list somewhere, but I’m just as fond of the work by Aaron Johnson and Christopher Mintz-Plasse and the exuberant direction by Matthew Vaughn. I don’t think the film is particularly deep or lasting, but as a genre exercise, it’s a blast, and the energy on display is so intoxication that “Kick-Ass” is one of the 2010 films I know I’ll revisit many times in the future.
6. “Exit Through The Gift Shop”
Punk rock is not dead. Not really. Not the underlying attitude to shred the pop culture that most people wear like a blanket, and not the desire to make art on whatever terms the artist chooses. Punk rock has to be dangerous. It has to break laws. It has to thumb its nose at norms. And, ideally, it has to be preposterous amounts of fun. I know when I was a pissed-off 15-year-old tossing my body into a swirling mosh pit at the Tampa Armory while the Impotent Sea Snakes played, I was having the time of my life. That’s what every second of “Exit Through The Gift Shop” feels like. It’s rowdy and rude and it dares you not to believe its ridiculous tale, and Banksy extends his own mythology with wit and style. He says 100% of the film is true. I say it doesn’t matter. It’s a Banksy original, a wicked thrill.
5. “The Fighter”
David O. Russell, Mark Wahlberg, and Christian Bale create a sort of macho magic here with the story of Mickey Ward (Wahlberg) and Dicky Ecklund (Bale), brothers who share a dream of middleweight championship, but a decade apart. Dicky had his shot and blew it, and now he’s struggling with a crack addiction that eats at his family. Micky might have a shot if only his mother Alice (Melissa Leo) would stop helping him and if only he could cut Dicky loose. The film covers some familiar ground, but the rich and funny performances from everyone, including Amy Adams in an image-demolishing role as Micky’s Boston barmaid girlfriend, are what eventually lift “The Fighter” and make it sing. Bale, in particular, captures the charisma necessary to be a successful addict, and it’s heartbreaking in its precision.
4. “Never Let Me Go”
Mark Romanek’s haunting, powerfully sad little story about life as a number is as delicate as a sheet of tissue paper, and watching the film is sort of like trying to read the memories that someone watercolored onto the tissue even as the rain tries to wash it away. Andrew Garfield is one the two actors who appears in two films on the list this year, and his work is so different in the two films that it deserves special note. Here, he’s Tommy, the broken bird at the heart of the story, and the reactions he engenders from the other kids he grows up with, Ruth (Kiera Knightley) and Kathy (Carey Mulligan) are what drive the whole thing forward. But their relationships aren’t the story… the real story here is the entire issue of what constitutes a soul, and how terrifying the prospect of a life without one would be. At its saddest, “Never Let Me Go” is pulverizing, and unforgettable.
3. “Rubber”/”The Sound Of Noise”
These are not films so much as they are practical jokes, outrageous experimental pranks on narrative, and they both fill me with an unreasonable degree of pleasure simply by virtue of their existence. “Rubber” tells the story of a telekinetic tire that travels around the desert blowing up the heads of people. “Sound Of Noise” tells the story of a group of terrorists who are using a city to play a gigantic symphony involving operating rooms, construction equipment, shredded currency, power lines, and more. The only person who can stop them? A tone deaf cop who hates and resents his musician family. They are both very silly films, but executed with such artistry and panache that they are reminders of just how much fun pure play can be when the filmmaker has command of their craft. These are exuberant films, gleeful films. They look like they were fun to make, and they are both the sorts of films that have to exist for the sake of my sanity in a world where we get “Little Fockers” and “Marmaduke” as well.
2. “Let Me In”
Matt Reeves did the impossible. Working from both the John Lindqvist novel and the Tomas Alfredson film, he digested both versions of “Let The Right One In” and came up with his own take on the material that managed to feel both fresh and necessary. In our remake culture right now, very few retellings of stories can justify being retold, but Reeves dug deep and came up with something very personal in the story of Owen (Kodi Smit-McPhee) and Abby (Chloe Moretz), two very different people who recognize something in one another, some need, some want, that they can each heal in the other. It is a sad film, lonely and blasted, and the performances he gets from his young leads are nothing short of astonishing. Working with actors of a certain age requires a very particular touch from a filmmaker, and Reeves proves to have that in spades. It didn’t feel like there was anything left to say with this material, but Reeves proved that telling a great story well, you can always find something in the material to make it yours.
1. “The Social Network”
If there was any one film that I got mail about leaving off my top ten, it was this one. “How could you?” I was asked repeatedly. And the truth is, “The Social Network” is absolutely good enough to be in my top ten. It’s just that there were ten films that personally spoke to me in a more direct or urgent manner. Aaron Sorkin’s script is a pleasure here, and every one of the young actors in the film makes a meal of what they’ve been given. I’ve been singing the praises of Jesse Eisenberg since “Roger Dodger,” and it feels like his version of Mark Zuckerberg is the performance he’s been revving up to this whole time. Andrew Garfield cements his best-yet year with his work as the man who believes himself to be a partner in Facebook, only to find that he’s just as left behind as the twins played to dazzling effect by the excellent Armie Hammer. David Fincher’s technical acumen is the perfect complement to Sorkin’s verbal bravado, and the result is a film that may not tell the complete or exact truth, but that manages to feel like a brutally honest snapshot of the moment we’re living through.
And on that note, we’re done with the top 20. There were so many other films that I feel bad not including, movies like “Another Year” and “Golden Slumber,” and “Dogtooth” and “Redline” and “Shutter Island” and “The Ghost Writer” and “Cold Fish” and “The Tillman Story” and “The Myth Of The American Sleepover’ and “The Killer Inside Me,” movies that I genuinely enjoyed but that didn’t quite make the cut. “Get Low” and “Heartless” and “Green Zone” and “I Am Love” were all experiences I’m glad I had this year. I would include “I Love You Phillip Morris” but it’s two years old for me at this point. Great movie, though. Absolutely worth seeing. “Jackass 3D” and “Louis CK: Hilarious” both made me laugh till I hurt and even if they don’t make some list, I’ll own both of them at some point. “Please GIve,” “Red White & Blue,” “Rare Exports,” and “Tabloid” were all exceptional at what they did, and the small scale pleasures of “The American” were just as sweet as the old-school pleasures of “Tangled.” “Winter’s Bone” and “The Freebie” were both Sundance discoveries that stuck with me as the year wore on, and I’m sincerely glad for the deranged laughs of big-budget comedies like “The Other Guys” and no-budget real-life freak-shows like “The Wild and Wonderful Whites Of West Virginia.”
It’s been a real honor to share 2010 with you as our second year here at HitFix, and I look forward to many more years with you in the future. In addition to yesterday’s “Best Of 2010” list and today’s list, I’m planning a few other end-of-the-year surprises, so keep checking back in over the holiday. We’ve got plenty more to share with you as we count down these final days of the year.